‘…in a single day and night of misfortune, the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea.’ –Plato, 360 B.C
Sadly, in a similar fashion of what could be perceived to be ‘misfortune’, Atlantis: the Lost Empire also seemed to disappear without a trace in the year 2001 AD.
The themed Walt Disney Pictures logo at the start of the feature sets the tone for the film: dark and mysterious. I’m not sure that after watching Atlantis, that I had the same excitement about the film as I did at the start. I did not see this film at the cinema, I think I was going through my ‘off period’ as far as Disney goes, as I was age 12/13 (I think it’s expected). Strangely, Disney also seemed to be going through the same phase with their films, at least in my opinion. Long gone was the second golden age of Disney animation with films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, with their unforgettable songs and interesting characters. Now we seemed to be faced with animated features that had been watered down, lacking a bit of soul. Needless to say, Atlantis: the Lost Empire was one of them.
When we are first introduced to Milo Thatch as he talks about the history of Atlantis, Disney geeks may notice that the character’s design is reminiscent of Hercules, and a prototype for what would follow a couple of years later; Home on the Range. He is brought to life through the voice of Michael J. Fox, a good choice for the main character who appears to be clumsy yet very clever, with a slight whiff of charm about him. His ‘goal’ shall we say, is to prove to the board at the Smithsonian Institute the existence of the city of Atlantis. A friend of Milo’s grandfather, named Preston B. Whitmore, contacts Milo and informs him that he has organised a team to go out and find Atlantis, offering him a place on their mission. Of course, he accepts and the journey begins…
For some reason, there seems to be an overwhelming amount of ‘main’ characters compared to the average Disney movie. Moliere, Helga, Commander Rourke, Dr. Sweet, Vinny, and Audrey all accompany Milo on his quest to find Atlantis with the guidance of his grandfather’s book; The Shephard’s Journal. They board a submarine along with a sarcastic radio operator called Wilhelmina, and ‘Cookie’, the ‘chef’…
“I got your four basic food groups: Beans, bacon, whisky and lard.”
Unfortunately, the film takes a very long time to get its momentum going. Instead, we are delivered what seems to be a hurried and clinical way of introducing the audience to the characters, which, since there are so many of them, becomes quite tedious. On the up side, there are many funny one-liners which seem to be the glue holding the rest of the dialogue together. Thankfully, after a while, we are introduced to Kida and her father, along with the rest of the Atlantean race. Princess Kida is apparently 8800 years old, and looks rather good on it! She discovers that Milo can translate Atlantean, which in turn can help her save Atlantis.
Many parts of the film show off the wonderful artistic style of production designer and monster artist Mike Mignola, with the harsh contrasts between light and dark, creating a dramatic and adventurous environment for the characters to inhabit. This said, the backgrounds do not stand out as some of Disney’s best, but this just adds to the ‘living graphic novel’ feel, which is a nice departure in some ways from the classical and intricate environmental art of previous films. There is also some very nice CGI integrated seamlessly into the film in the many machines such as the Leviathan.
One of the things which, as a Disney film, seems to be seriously lacking, is a few songs. Ever since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney Pictures have been writing wonderful and memorable songs for their films. To be truthful, Atlantis doesn’t seem to be the type of film where one of the characters might break into song, but even a recurring background tune would be nice to break up the action. Most of the film is set in the dark, and even with the odd funny moment, the overall tone of the movie is that of seriousness. I also would not recommend this film for little girls who love princesses, pink and ponies. Even though we are introduced to a ‘princess’, she is not the traditional Aurora or Belle in a long flowing dress with a sweet singing voice, and nor like Pocahontas, if only slightly in styling. Kida, although in merchandising was a central character, in the film seems to take a back seat to Milo and even some of the sidekick characters such as Audrey. Maybe more screen time with Kida would have dragged in more little girls to the cinema, as the guns and talk of mercenaries seems very boy orientated rather than unisex.
Atlantis does have to be praised for its dramatic ending, however, even though it is somewhat predictable in story, it more than makes up for its shortcomings with its special effects.
This review was from the 2 Disc Collector’s edition of the film, and the extras are rather nice, including the usual deleted scenes and publicity sections, plus a making of featurette, character creation and a section called ‘How to Speak Atlantean’ (which may come in handy, you never know). I would recommend this to any die hard Disney fans or anyone who likes machines and submarines (like my Dad). If you’re looking for a film to sit the kids in front of, I suggest you give this one a miss unless you’ve been blessed with a house full of little boys.
I give this movie 3 Tinks.